What I want to be when I grow up?

In 1983 I saw “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” for the first time.  It was on HBO, I was seven-years-old, and I was NOT supposed to watch HBO without my parents permission…which was a rule that got suspended about the moment I discovered “Fraggle Rock” for the first time.

I’d been going to Sabbath-school for long enough to know exactly what the Ark of the Covenant was and why it was important.  I had a reasonable grasp on Nazis, and Egypt, and submarines…and pretty much no idea about sea-planes,  Peruvian idols, Russian drinking games (I remember wondering why that guy fell over from drinking water…what a wuss), or that REALLY cool flying-wing-thing that chopped up that German boxer/mechanic like a giant blender stuck on “puree”…and DAMN did I want to learn about ALL of it after that!!!

From that moment on, I KNEW what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wanted to be Indiana Jones.  While my family environment, my parent’s interests, my education, and my other entertainment choices all contributed to my eventual love of history, and ancient cultures and far away places…I really just wanted to be Indiana Jones.

I remember the moment, when I was probably eight or nine years old, that I learned that my grandparent’s generation had already defeated the Nazis.  I actually felt gypped. The Russians just weren’t as “cool” as the Germans as “bad guys” (although Firefox was awesome). 

In fact, I remember being very confused by the whole East German/Russian connection as a kid, until a member of our church told my fifth-grade class about the day (August 12th, 1961) he, his wife, and their two-year-old daughter went for a Sabbath afternoon walk away from their home in the Soviet Authority Region, and past the border zone to the American Authority Region, almost exactly where Checkpoint Charlie would stand in future years.  Away from their possessions, their family and friends; away from everything they had ever known, and into freedom. 

They took that walk eleven hours before Walter Ulbricht’s order closed the border from east to west Berlin.  Exactly ten years to the day before his brother died in the “death strip” after failing to escape the watchful eyes of East German boarder guards, or the bullets from their automatic rifles.  I will admit that his very personal story, and the way that he told it, has haunted me all of my life.

As does the knowledge that he died of a heart attack at a school function two years before the Berlin Wall fell to crowds of Germans from both sides of the iron curtain and the march of history; and three years before German reunification and his family’s return to their homeland after three decades of exile in America.

His father had fought in the Wehrmacht on the Eastern front, specifically in the Siege of Leningrad; and died on the steps of the Reichstag during the Battle of Berlin.  A little bit of time on google will lead you to a picture of a uniformed twelve-year-old boy clutching his dead father under the rifle and leery supervision of a member of the Soviet 3rd Shock Army.  It will also lead you to a picture of Hitler shaking hands with uniformed children in the Hitler Youth corps before the battle, and another of uniformed Hitler Youth being taken as prisoners of war.  Same boy in all three photos.  It’s hard to reconcile Soviet atrocity with German atrocity when both are painted on one child’s face.

One child who eventually survived war, indoctrination into a brotherhood of hatred, five years in a POW camp in Siberia, returning home to Soviet institutionalized poverty for the German people, escape to a foreign country, the death of his sibling in front of the world, and three decades of exile and penitence for the sins of his youth and the sins of his father.

But he didn’t survive high cholesterol long enough to see his country restored, his family reunited or peace and tolerance overcome a half-century of very personal pain.

History hurries for no one, and the reaper doesn’t care what any man deserves.  What the Soviet sickle couldn’t cut down, cholesterol and the grim scythe did.

And, to be honest, THAT haunts me more than anything else that he taught me…

…Anyway…so, no Nazis.

I took Latin by correspondence in high school because it was closer to my future goals then Contemporary Spanish.  I student taught world history because (and I’m quoting my mentor and favorite teacher EVER, who had me teach the class for him) “[I] knew it better than [he] did.”

My parents have degrees in Communications (dad) and two in Art (my mom, one in Fine Art, and one in Design), and two minors history, two in English lit and one in theology and one in philosophy between them.

By the time I was in high-school I had read most, if not all, of their college text books.  Some of those books remain in my personal library to this day.  I LOVED history.  I loved philosophy.  I loved art.  I LOVED literature.

I had already been through a LOT of theology, but I still learned classical and koine (biblical) greek so I could understand exegetical concepts directly, rather than rely on other people’s translations.

High school was entirely dedicated to my goal of being Indiana Jones an archaeologist.  I studied for the ACT (32) and the SAT (1280, 800 Verbal/480 Math) tests PURELY with the intent to get into the schools that would further my quest to be a professor.  I applied to (and was accepted at) Reed College and Amherst College SPECIFICALLY because of the number of Rhodes Scholars each institution had produced (and damn it, I WAS going to spend two years at Oxford).  I knew EXACTLY what I wanted to do and EXACTLY how I intended to get there.

Of course, as with all great plans, this one had it’s little bumps.

First, there was the day I spent on a “job shadow” with the director of the Anthropology department of Boise State University.  He was cordial, honest, open and without a doubt the best dose of reality I could have ever had.

Conversely, the reality of hearing about what life is like as a perpetual student working up to a doctorate and a chance to be an assistant professor for 10-15 years while waiting for one of the 150 employed archaeologists in America to DIE and create a job opening that the other 500 assistant professors (who are all waiting for the same thing) will all compete with you for…it was all sounding a bit grim.

He left out the parts where you gallop around the world, finding treasures, seducing women, and generally saving the free world from the Wrath of God…which seemed like important details.

Hell, the fact was you only ran a dig once every five years at best, and even that was unlikely until you were an established voice in the academic community.  I didn’t want to establish my academic voice, I wanted to shoot Arabian swordsmen and steal religious icons from indigenous Peruvian tribes…for the greater good and posterity of course.

Beyond all that, there was another major bump in the road…no matter how much you plan.  No matter how hard you research, and map out, and plot your course, you can’t control something as simple as the human heart.

By the end of my Senior year of high school, I’d given mine to someone else and I really didn’t want anything to come between us.  Not even my dreams of being Indiana Jones.

By the end of my Freshman year of college, our marriage was just a few months away, and we decided that both of us being in college just wasn’t financially viable…so I got a job.  Well, we both had jobs, I just focused more on “a career” and less on short term goals.

Before long, that COBOL programming class came in handy and I ended up working in IT for state government.

I never set foot on a college campus again, except for the occasional sporting event or musical performance.  While I have considered going back to school and getting a degree or two…I’ve given up my plans to be Indiana Jones.

My “day job” path has gone far better than I could have ever hoped.  I have a great job with a great company.  I’m a “Senior Technical Consultant” and a “Project Manager” and a “Primary Knowledge Expert” and a “Systems and Business Analyst and Solutions Designer” depending on the needs of the project(s) I happen to be working on.

Let’s be up front, I get paid very well, the benefits are great, I like the people I work for and the people I work with, and above all I like the work I’m doing.  But it’s also not what I wanted to be doing when I grew up.  I realize that shouldn’t matter, but I think about it at night when I’m driving home.

See, there’s one other thing I wanted to be when I grew up…I wanted to be an author like my mom.

My mom wrote almost twenty novels for Pocket Books and St. Martins Press from the time I was seven until I was twenty seven.  She won awards, had genre bestsellers, spoke at conventions and went on book-signing tours across the pacific northwest.

When I was in high school, the fact that my mom wrote historical and/or fantasy romance novels wasn’t always a conversation I wanted to have…but as an adult I can’t begin to tell you how cool I think it is.

I didn’t really identify it as a kid, but since I was seven I’ve always believed that was the coolest job ever.  Cooler than Indiana Jones.

I’ve always written.  It’s something that’s simply a part of my physical make-up.  I can’t just “not write,” even if I wanted to.  I make up stories in my head constantly.  Plots and characters and driving factors and motivations and places and things…I wish I could turn it off sometimes, but my imagination isn’t under my control.

I wrote my first novel when I was in the eighth grade.  It was about 55K words, and it was HORRIBLE.  I still have it.  Think “The Mummy” meets “Time Bandits” meets a very thinly veiled “Star Wars” via the writing skills of a twelve-year-old.

I didn’t write another novel for almost two decades, but I spent many MANY hours laying the groundwork.

I also wrote shorter pieces that have since been published.  For money and everything.  And while at one level I know that makes me “a writer,” I just won’t feel it until I can hold a book in my hand.

And here’s a little secret, I’m horribly self-conscious about my writing.  The greatest challenge of my professional life was the moment I wrapped up a synopsis and three chapters and stuck it in the mail…off to the slush-pile and a brief chance at life.

What do I want to be when I grow up?  I want to be an author like my mommy.

Because she’s cooler than Indiana Jones.